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Friday, October 12, 2007

A Day at the Zoo

We were really happy to get Alex home for a couple of days earlier this week and, as you can see, the big event was a day at the Memphis zoo.

The first lesson I learned was that this is certainly not the zoo Mike and I experienced as children. It’s been expanded and renovated with wonderful, open habitats for most of the animals. The entry and initial plaza, complete with reflecting pools and fountains, was designed in a non-hokey Egyptian theme honoring Memphis, Egypt for which this Memphis on the river was named. It really is beautifully done.

Fortunately for those of us who love the history of the city, the designers saved some historic pieces and incorporated them into this most-modern zoo. If you look at the black & white photo above, you’ll see my mother and mini-me posing in front of the zoo entrance. (Can you believe we dressed like that to go to the zoo? Of course, I had no choice.) Behind us you can see one of the two columns with guardian lions that bracketed the entry. Both of the columns were saved (see Mike and Alex above) and featured in an interior zoo plaza.

Our very favorite exhibit – which we visited twice – was the pagoda enclosure for the pandas. We met a knowledgeable lady who I first thought was a docent, but I later decided that she’s actually a panda groupie. She’s visited all the panda exhibits in the U.S. and truly knows a lot. I soaked up all the info I could get from her, so I’m nearly a panda-ologist. Here goes.

Memphis has two pandas: YaYa, the lady, and LeLe, the guy you see in the above photo. I swear he’s smiling for the camera. We didn’t get to know YaYa very well. On both our stops, she was snoozing in her tree with her back to us. Could be postpartum depression. Memphians were really excited earlier this year when it was declared that YaYa was pregnant. Unfortunately, however, the pregnancy did not reach term. The good news, though, is that there might be another chance this year for a little panda cub to get started.

YaYa and LeLe do not live together. Pandas generally live solo in the wild anyway, and if they were housed together apparently they’d begin to feel like siblings and wouldn’t mate. They each have enclosed “cave” structures where they spend their nights, and they have glass-enclosed “day rooms” with a couple of trees, rocks and a pool of water.

When we gave up on YaYa waking up, we went over to the guy’s digs and found a most-happy panda bear. He was lounging comfortably against a rock and had covered his belly with a mound of bamboo. Pandas eat 40 pounds a day, so it’s serious business. We were also advised that pandas like an array of bamboo flavors in their daily diet. Each morning, zookeepers put a fresh pile of several bamboo varieties in each bear’s day room. The various kinds of bamboo are grown off-site. I think some may be imported. It’s not a good day when a bear goes to inspect the day’s menu, turns his back and walks away. Keepers have to scramble for a different assortment.

On the day of our visit, LeLe was having a fine time browsing through his bamboo buffet. He’d pick up a branch, sniff and discard if it wasn’t the taste he was seeking. After tossing a few aside, he’d happily identify a tasty stem, then peel it with his teeth and munch the tender interior. Ah, what a life.

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